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todayiamme · 2016-12-09 · Original thread
While I love 'The Right Stuff,' Tom Wolfe took many liberties with the truth, distorted events, and did not properly interview his subjects. Tom Wolfe himself admits that Alan Shepard hated it.[1] (Shepard accused him of never interviewing the astronauts)

For me, one of Wolfe's most troubling "creative interpretations" is his portrayal of Gus Grissom. He heavily implied that Grissom "screwed up" by taking a prevalent media theory and running with it because Grissom was already dead and couldn't tell his side of the story.


Even after his death, perhaps because he was an easy target and could not defend himself, the public opinion of Gus was still questionable. In the book and the movie, "The Right Stuff," Tom Wolfe portrays Gus as "the goat among the astronauts, a hard-drinking, hard-living type who courts the favors of barmaids with gewgaws he promises to carry into space. He is also held up to the world as a man who screwed up, who panicked, blew the explosive hatch off his capsule and allowed it to sink to the ocean floor after reentry."

Wolfe described the scene at Edwards Air Force Base after Gus's Liberty Bell 7 flight as such: "And at Edwards . . . the True Brothers [test pilots who were not selected for the astronaut program]. . . well, my God, as you can imagine, they were . . . laughing! Naturally they couldn't say anything. But now - surely! - it was so obvious! Grissom had just screwed the pooch!"

Gus Grissom vs. the Media: Victim or Hero?


None of this ever happened. NASA's own internal investigations cleared his name and he later led an extremely successful Gemini mission and the ill fated Apollo 1. [2] He was the first member of the Astronaut Corps to fly in space twice and would have arguably led Apollo 11 had it not been for the fire. [3]

Tom Wolfe wanted to write a dramatic story about a group of people explicitly chosen for being preternaturally calm. So he resorted to creative devices (there are "composite characters" within the book) and fiction to spice things up.

If you'd like to get an accurate view of space history, then I'd suggest these books by astronauts and flight controllers.

Jim Lovell's 'Apollo 13' (which takes a very interesting systemic approach to the failure and views it from the perspective of the engineering and other ground crew as well as the astronauts)

Gene Kranz's 'Failure Is Not an Option'

Michael Collins' 'Carrying the Fire' (he wrote a part of this in orbit around the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin made their historic landing)

Eugene Cernan's 'The Last Man on the Moon'

Shepard, Glenn, Cooper, Grissom, Schirra, Carpenter, and Slayton's 'We Seven' (written in 1962 by the astronauts themselves)

John Young's 'Forever Young'

Together I find these books to be much better than any other compilation, because they were written by the people who were actually there. Some are technical. Some aren't. A few are even poetic. But together they represent a thorough look at the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.

[1] "In other words they were like Everyman—except for Alan Shepard. He hated the whole thing, down to the paper it was printed on."


[3] According to Deke Slayton the "chief astronaut" who made flight selections, Grissom was on track to be a moonwalker. He was the key decision maker who pushed Armstrong forward as the first person on the moon.

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